Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Reflection on the "W"

I hate the "w". Probably too passionately.

On the one hand, I get the feeling that having strong feelings of this sort for a letter - an abstract concept with a randomly-assigned speech value - is rather silly, but I have to say, I can't help it. The "w" is, without question, my least-favorite letter. (My favorite letter is "T", but that's a whole other story.)

I have several theories about the source of my hatred for this letter. I think that it stems mainly from the pronunciation of the letter when spelled. Double-you. Doubleyoudoubleyoudoubleyou. What other letter takes so much time to say? A?B?C?D?E?F? etc, etc, ad nauseum. Each and every other letter is one short, easily pronounced syllable. They roll off the tongue easily. They practically leap from the mouth. Not the "w". The "W" fits awkwardly in the mouth; the tongue must twist itself several times for this one, simple, rebel letter.

My question is: why? When the Powers That Be were assigning names to the letters, why call this one the "double-you"? For one thing, if we want to get really technical, we'd call it the "double-vee," which is even harder to pronounce than "double-you."

"What should we call this letter, fellas?"

"Well, it kind of looks like two v's stuck together, doesn't it?"

"That's it! The double-vee!"

Mumbling: "Doubleveedoubleveedoubleveedubblebeedammit! This isn't working!"

"Well, so double-vee's out. What are some other options?

Mumbling and muttering. Finally: "Well, if it weren't so pointy it would kind of look like two u's..."


"Doubleyoudoubleyoudoubleyoudoubleyou.... Well, it's still a mouthful but since nobody has any better ideas, we'll go with it."

Had I been there that day, I would have not-so-gently reminded the Powers That Be (PTB) that they typically, up until that point, had named all the letters for the sounds they made. A? Whaddyaknow, the letter "A" sounds a helluva lot like the sound it makes! B? Makes a "buh" sound! V? Sounds an awful lot like "vuh"!

Why break the pattern? What, for crying out loud, would have been wrong with calling it "wee"? Or "wah"? Or at least -and here's a novel thought - INCLUDE SOMEWHERE IN THE NAME THE SOUND THAT THE LETTER MAKES!!!!! By that logic, they should have call the the J, "hooked-I". Or the V, "inverted-A-without-the-horizontal-line."

Barring the H, W is the one letter whose name cannot be immediately associated with the sound it signifies. Great thinking, PTB.

I think my vitriol towards this letter is exacerbated by the fact that I am from Washington state. Every acronym this state has that freaking three-syllable word in it. Washington State University, University of Washington, Washington State Department of Transportation, etc.

This makes it that so, often, it takes more syllables to say the acronym for something than it does to say the actual name of the thing itself. This strikes me as a travesty.

Plus, it reduces us to coming up with ridiculous alternatives to saying the acronyms. Take the state universities: University of Washington. UW. Now, no one calls it "You-Doubleyou," at least not if they're from Washington. They call it "You-Dub." Which, if you're from somewhere, and you heard someone say "you-dub," you would never immediately associate "dub" with the letter "w". You would think this person was stupid.

Or Washington State University. WSU. Not called "Doubleyou-ess-you." No; this one becomes "wazzu." Which frequently is also a reference to the buttocks. Not necessarily a name you wish to associate with a place of higher education.

My alma mater, to my knowledge, has not found a way to avoid its unfortunate acronym: WWU. Western Washington University. Known in the state as "Western." Never, ever, known to ANYONE as "Doubleyou-doubleyou-you." Trying saying that even once, at the same speed as you usually say acronyms. That last "U" is a killer, isn't it? No wonder it's either called "Western," or "Western Washington University." The acronym's too hard to say, and would just confuse people.

Here's my proposal, and I think it's a relatively simple one: Replace the pronuciation of "Doubleyou" with "wah". It's easy to say, takes no effort, and creates an immediate association
with the letter's sound, and makes things so vastly easier for Washingtonians. No longer will WSU be associated with the hindquarters; no longer will UW sound like a command from Tarzan to one of the three men in a tub, and while WWU might then sound like something a speech-impeded cheerleader might say, at least it would be pronounceable. Even George W. Bush would no longer be referred to as "Dubya."

See? Everyone would be happy.

So, join me in the "W" revolution! (Cue "The Times They Are A'Changing")


  1. You made me laugh my head off Jess! :>)

  2. very cool....but I'm afraid I'm a follower in this case. If it actually becomes a semi-mainstream pronunciation, then I'll try helping it out.

  3. As a Washingtonian, Mark, and especially as a WWU (read: WaWaYou) alum, how can you not see the reason behind this?

    Viva la Revolucion!

  4. T is my favorite letter too! I was once annoyed that S got to come before T. I remember that from back when I first learned the alphabet. But then I realized that T could be considered more mature for coming later in the alphabet. But with that, I guess I have the assumption that Z is older than A because it's higher (or taller you could say) in the alphabet.

    I'm glad to see my preference for T isn't as irrational as I originally thought!